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Bernard Lee wraps up whirlwind week

1 November 2010

Bernard Lee had quite a schedule last week. The official spokesperson for the Foxwoods World Poker Tour Poker Room, Lee wanted, of course, to be part of the $10,000 buy-in World Poker Finals Main Event. He had a small problem, though, if you can call it that. Lee made it to the final table of the main event at the World Series of Poker's Circuit Event in Hammond, Indiana. And the final table was played at the same time as the World Poker Finals.

Lee ended up finishing third to win $236,368 and a guaranteed seat at the WSOP Circuit National Championship, where the winner will earn a WSOP bracelet. A few hours later, Lee was on a flight back to Boston so he could get to Foxwoods and enter the tournament at the beginning of Day 2. (Foxwoods had always planned on accepting registrations until the end of the first level on the second day of play.) And why not? Nearly half of Lee's $1.7 million career tournament earnings have came at Foxwoods, including three tournament victories.

We caught up with Lee during the second break of the day, shortly after he was eliminated from the event.

Casino City Times: The last couple days have been a real whirlwind for you. Can you talk about the logistics of going from the circuit event and getting here and getting in the tournament?

Bernard Lee: The final table in Hammond started at 2 p.m., and I did an interview at noon. I slept pretty well, got up at 8:00-8:30, had breakfast, went for a walk. Hammond is different; you call for a cab and you cross your fingers that the cab will come. I wish I was joking. They said you should call the cab for 11:00 — it only takes 20 minutes to get there. I guess we get spoiled living in cities. We settled on 11:15, and it was 11:30 and they didn't show up. So a Full Tilt representative was nice enough to give me a ride.

My college roommate and Sam Chauhan showed up, so we were kind of hanging out for a bit, talking and getting ready. We didn't start playing until about 2:30 because they were preparing for production. I don't think anybody got knocked out for the first two hours. And I didn't play a hand for the first 90 minutes. I was the only person that hadn't played a hand yet. The winner actually only played one hand in that period of time. The first hand that I played, the button pushed on me, I woke up with ace-jack and called, he had king-eight and I survived. We played to dinner, we came back at 9:10, then Curt Kohlberg was knocked out, then I was knocked out around 11:00. Ironically it was the only flip I went in on. The ace-jack vs. king-eight was the only 60-40 I went in on, every other one was a 70-30 or better. This is why when people ask why I don't go in on a flip, I tell them it's because I never win them. I have a flip here for my tournament life, unfortunately he had ace-king with the king of spades and it comes three spades. I swear to you I said a spade will not come. If I lose it will be an ace or a king. And the turn was the king of clubs.

I was out, and got back to my room at about 12:30 a.m. I figured out a flight and was trying to work out some arrangements. In the interim I'm also working out arrangements for another player and some media who were coming to the World Poker Finals, so I'm working out their arrangements as well, being spokesperson at Foxwoods. I figured out my flight, figured out the guy that was going to drive me in the morning, so I went to bed, asked for a wake-up call at 3:45 and she laughed and said "You mean in an hour and 40 minutes?" I said, I know, in an hour and 40 minutes. Thank goodness I set the alarm because I don't even remember picking up the wake-up call. The alarm went off at about 3:50, thankfully I'd packed, went right down, slept in the car the whole way, don't even remember getting to the airport, and I don't even remember waiting for the plane, but somehow I got on the plane.

I pretty much slept the whole way, it's about a two-hour flight. My business manager/agent picked me up at the airport and drove me home. I got home at about 9:50 and I said I've got until 10:15 and we have to be out the door. In 25 minutes I took all my laundry out, I put new clothes in, got a couple of things for Inside Deal because we're taping the show here on Monday so I had to get a sports jacket, which I normally don't wear when I'm playing. Ironically I had to bring the money, but we did walk out the door at 10:15, I was pretty amazed we did it. But then of course the phone starts ringing off the hook. So for the first 45 minutes driving down, I'm talking with everyone who wants to congratulate me. And then at 11:00 I just shut the phone off and had to close my eyes.

CCT: It must have been a little weird, playing in a final table yesterday and then getting here and starting a Day 2 today.

BL: In all honesty, it's really hard. Yesterday is such a different atmosphere than today, where you're at a final table, all the focus is on you, you're closing the table instead of bringing in new people, so I really just wanted to clear my mind. My agent had a great phrase, he said "This is your sorbet for the day, clearing your palette, clearing your mind." I don't think I played badly today, I just couldn't get anything. I went in with nines and the guy outflopped me, he had king-10. I went in with ace-queen, the flop comes three-deuce-deuce, I continuation bet, he check-raises me, I'm out. Things like that, there was just nothing I could do. But that's tournament poker. I had a run of four great days. I will tell you, it was an incredible 12-hour span, getting a check for almost a quarter million dollars and then sitting down and starting day 2 of a tournament. Definitely a little bit of a whirlwind.

CCT: Was it hard to get into the flow of today's tournament? While you're weren't exactly short stacked, you don't have the type of chip stack you'd like to have.

BL: I've been working really hard on starting out well, and I've been fortunate enough to go into Day 2 with some good chips in recent tournaments and be able to play some poker. Today, I started out with about 25,000 chips with blinds at 200-400, so there's still plenty of play. But, you think about it, one raise to 1,100 and a continuation of 2,100, well 25,000 becomes 22,000, and it becomes 19,000 and then it becomes 14,000. And that's really what happened to me, and then all of a sudden you're in trouble. The nines vs. the king-10 and the 10 flops, that was a tough one because I lost about 4,500 chips there, I'm coming back from the next break at 13,000. I took a couple of fliers with suited connectors in position and it just didn't work out and the next thing you know you're at 10,000 and I'm playing tight trying to pick up and hand and I got blinded down and it didn't work out.

CCT: Even though it didn't work out for you today, it must be nice that you were able to make it back and play in this tournament as a spokesperson for Foxwoods. Can you talk about that relationship, what your role is and what it means to represent this casino?

BL: To me, this is home. It's always been home. Foxwoods has been open since February of 1992, and I actually came here in May of 1992 and was here in the first poker room. I can tell you where every single poker room in this place was. There was an area where they set aside five or six tables when they first opened up. The first time I came here I got quad 10s in Seven Card Stud. I grew up playing poker here; it's a place of a lot of firsts. The first time I played my first tournament, my first main event was here in 2004, and all three of my tournament victories have been here. I've won (almost $800,000) here; it really feels like home. Card Player named me the voice of New England poker in 2008, for everything I do with my radio show, writing for the Boston Herald, working for ESPN, and even though Foxwoods is one of the biggest casinos in the world and it's the biggest poker room on the East Coast, you attract from the regional area. Being the voice of New England poker, Foxwoods is in New England, so you would think that that marriage would help, and I think it has. Look at the registrations for the Mega Stack that we held in August, which just blew the house down. We set a record for every single event, and we sold out a couple of events. To have numbers going up, especially in this economy, you just don't see that. It just shows you that there are still people that want to play poker, it's just more how you market to them and get the word out to them. I have 12 years of background in marketing and I hope that maybe I've had an impact on that.

CCT: You mentioned the Megastack events and some of the preliminary events here had some great turnouts. This $10,000 event has seen a drop in participation in the last few years. Why do you think that's happened and what can be done to get it back up to reverse that trend and get it back up to where it was a few years ago?

BL: First and foremost I think that you have to remember that we are still in a recession and $10,000 isn't something that you pull out of your wallet. The reason that our Megastack or our Deepstack events do so well is that people still love to play poker. You'd love to play poker but you can't afford $10,000 but you can afford $300 or $400. $10,000 events are very hard to fill. Until the WSOP put their Atlantic City event in, we were the only $10,000 event on the East Coast. I think there is some cache with regards to that. It will come back, the economy will come back. It's amazing that three or four years ago, we were saying should we not have $10,000 events anymore, we should have $15,000 events. People were all talking about that, how that was going to be the trend, and now we're hoping that $10,000 events are going to stick around as $3,500 and $5,000 events are now coming into vogue. Yes, the main event is down from last year, but I still think that if you look at the numbers across the board for the tournaments, I think you'll still see an upward trend.

CCT: Since you just came from a Circuit event, how would you say that tour is doing? Do you think that the Circuit Events are going to succeed?

BL: It needed some revamping, there's no ifs, ands or buts about that. I wrote a column on ESPN.com about maybe doing something very drastic and dramatic by saying that every circuit main event should be a bracelet event. Some people were saying that you'd sell out every event if you did that. They decided to do something a little more modified so that there's one bracelet event based off of the tour. I think it's a great idea. It really got my interest. It was one of my top goals to make it and get in that 100-person tournament. I think that if you get about 300 points you'll get a seat. That was my goal. I had 20 from Iowa with a final table there. I thought if I get to the final 18 (in the main event) in Chicago, I'm going to get 100 points, and I'll be almost halfway to my goal. In all honesty, getting to the final 18 was my goal.

When we were closing on the final table, all of a sudden, I said, hey, if I make the final table, I don't have to worry about these points anymore. And (Harrah's Interactive Entertainment Vice President) Ty Stewart kiddingly said to me, "That means that you're going to slow down playing in these circuits." And in all honesty I probably will. I probably won't grind as much going to all the preliminaries. I've been travelling a ton recently, so it will be good to see the kids, and I probably will slow down a little bit on the preliminaries. I'm going to play in the Atlantic City $10,000, no if ands or buts about that. Probably Rincon is off my schedule now, and New Orleans is definitely off. I would say if I final table AC then I might play in Rincon, because it might be neat to do three in a row, but unless something special like that happens, I probably won't go to Rincon.

I think that the concept is great. Unfortunately for them they've got someone like me who was probably going to do this a lot, but now I've got my seat, so I've got no incentive to keep going. So that's something they might want to look at, how to keep incentivizing someone like me. Maybe if I end up in the top-40 in points, you give me a seat next year, or you give me a seat into the Main Event. That would keep me going. I can't get another seat, so it kind of eliminates that possibility. They needed to do something different, and I think they're on the right track. They'll make changes as they keep going, and I think that's something that Harrah's does well, they make adjustments. They're willing to take a risk. Three years ago, I would venture to say it was a 50-50 spilt to do the November Nine. I have to honestly say right now, I don't think it's a 50-50 split, it's at least 75-80 pro versus against. They're willing to take the risk, and they were willing to do it here. There's going to be some controversy. Some people will say that only 100 people get to play for a bracelet and that taints it. And then they could argue that the Tournament of Champions should be a bracelet event. But in the end, if Harrah's builds a great structure for the circuit events, they'll succeed.

Unfortunately I came in third in this 226-person event, and of course I'm disappointed in not winning, but if you're going to tell me that I'm going to finish third in this event and that I'm going to win an event next year and it's going to be for a bracelet, then it's all been worth it.
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Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.